The concept of nature and the ecology of the mountain

Mountain ecology

Ecology is a disciplinary field that studies the complex connections between geology, climate and biological species,  including humans. The core premises are that they are interdependent, that there are rhythmic changes of seasons due to the earth´s orbit around the sun, even though never identical, and that global, regional and local ecological systems are connected. Here, metaphysical assumptions merge with the empirical reality in the sense that there are no bifurcation or metaphysical reality beyond nature’s processes.

The mountain is barren and constituted by winds, water and stones, with spare vegetation during a short summer.  Listening displays the forces and subtle nuances. The moment of recording, they are reality, nature or God, all in one. However, recordings are representations, only indicators of what happened. Here follow some sonic representation of winds, water and stones.

Mountain winds

The mountain is strongly exposed to winds from the Atlantic Ocean. These strong, cold winds sweep along the mountain range, so strengthening them and making the area potentially dangerous. I found the winds to be the primary manifestations of the force of the mountain. The sound of a wind depends on its force, the space and what it encounters.

Here is a wind recording made outdoors when it was still possible to stand up straight

Here is another one of roofing felt on the cottage in storm                              

I made this recording inside the cottage in a stormy night


Water in / on the mountain

Water from rain and melting snow and ice is another main element of the mountain. Sounds of water vary with its volume, with the steepness and texture of the terrain. Listening reveals the particular, subtle rhythms of its continuous flow. 

This is sound of a brook                               

Here is the rain on the ground                             

and water under thin ice in the autumn                               

Here is melting water under snow in the spring                                  

This one is from deep down in a scree

Weather change

Here is how I learned about the harsh and unpredictable mountain weather. The story is from the beginning of this research in August and October 2009 and instantiates the unpredictability and embodied consequences of the weather, and the need for imagination and anticipation of risk, which are integral parts of Whitehead's concept of nature. Furthermore, it shows how weather types such as 'windy' or 'snowy' are crude categories that are always more nuanced in lived, practical life.

'In August, I borrowed high quality sound recording technology from work and stayed at Tvergasteintjørne for about a week. This was my first serious recording session. I explored and recorded sounds of water, stones, sheep and practices like wading, drinking, skinny-dipping and footsteps on various types of grounds. I also wanted to record the waves on the tarn; however, there was no wind the whole week. The wind returned the last day of the stay, but then the battery was flat.

I thought of making an excuse for a shortcut. 'Why not record the waves of Mjøsa [my local lake], they will sound exactly the same, nobody will know', I commented to my companion. 'Are you crazy, how can you think in such a way, don't sink so low!', she expressed indignantly. I agreed. The project must be authentic, no fake artefacts, no betrayal, or else there is no purpose. We were both disappointed at my moment of weakness.

So recording the waves of Tvergasteintjørne became the mission of the following trips. The next trip was early October. By then I had bought a new second-hand full-frame camera that I was keen to explore. I planned to stay for three or four days. The weather forecast had predicted clear sky the first day and cloudy the next, so I planned to make photographs the first day and record the sounds of the waves the next.

Besides, I found it difficult to work with photography and sound recording at the same time.

The first day was crisp and clear. While I photographed by the tarn, I listened to

the sounds of the waves and looked forward to recording them the next day.'

This is how it looked this afternoon in October, and the morning after.


The next day was all white. It had been snowing all night and the ground was covered

with 15 - 20 cm of snow. Moreover, the tarn was covered with slush. No waves, no sound

whatsoever, complete silence. I comforted myself, 'I can wait, it will be gone tomorrow',

but immediately realised that it would not. The snow may stay until the spring and

the slush will turn into ice and I had better get going!

I was in danger; I had no skis, it was a long walk to people and the station, the snow covered

ground made it difficult to see where I stepped; along the way I could slip on stones or step

into holes or brooks in the ground and break my leg. I grabbed my mobile telephone, which

was my only security line if something happened.

Walking slowly and carefully down the hill, I made it to the station, wet and tired. My mission

to record the sounds of Tvergasteinstjørn had not succeeded, but I was very happy with

the photographs taken with my new camera. 

Recording the waves of the tarn first happened the next summer.' Here it is: 


This resonates with Whitehead´s statement that "by due attention, more can be found in nature than what is observed at first sight" (Stengers 2011, 36). Sensitisation is to be increasingly aware of such nuances. The experience also caused the epiphany that most types of weather had nuances worth recording. 


I found that to gain deeper and nuanced knowledge of a mountain requires engagement over an extended period of time. Sensitivity can be trained. I am amazed by the forces and I am aware of my vulnerability. Over the years, the site of Deep Ecology developed into a dense sensory textured place for me; still I am aware that I have just scratched its surface.




 The mountain rock is almost 400 million years old (Næss and Brun 1995). It appears solid. Even so, it is formed of brittle rock that breaks down gradually, at a rate hardly noticeable during a person’s lifetime. The scree and boulders below were once part of the mountain. They gradually disintegrate into sand and powder and, when mixed with organic material from plants, animals and humans, become the soil that we walk on and that nourishes new life. This process of dissolution forges new kinds of relationships.           

Stones normally don’t make sound. Occasionally, there are avalanches, but they are difficult to predict and thereby difficult to record. However, humans can make them move. Here is a composition of making sounds out of stones


 ‘Nature is what we are aware of in perception’     


This statement is from The Concept of Nature (Whitehead 1994) and is the main philosophical grounding of this research. Here I quote from Stengers’ Thinking with Whitehead (Stengers 2011). 

What we are aware of is happening in nature. Something 'out there' captures our attention – we cannot be aware of something that does not exist. "The nature which is the fact apprehended in awareness holds within it the greenness of the trees, the song of the birds, the warmth of the sun, the hardness of chairs and the feel of the velvet." (ibid., 38.)

An example of what we are aware of in perception is the change of colours and light through the rhythms of days and seasons.

These nuances are part of nature and make the gradual change perceptible to us. What I perceive belongs to the mountain around me; the blueness I see in the shadows of the snowdrift belongs to them. They are not projections of my mind.

However, Whitehead insists that we should not confuse what we are aware of in the process of our encounter with the image of nature that we carry with us in our minds. "What matters is not to confuse 'what' we are aware of in perception with 'what' we perceive." (ibid., 56)

In the case of this research, when I am away from the mountain, the colour blue in my memory and in my photographs belongs to them and not to the mountain. In other words, ideas, thoughts and recordings are responses and representations, and not the nature that I am aware of in perception. This distinction is central when considering recordings and artworks.

There are more attributes to Whitehead’s concept of nature. He is a process philosopher and nature is in a continuous process of becoming. It is infinitely complex. It is unpredictable and has physical consequence. It is risky and humans are vulnerable. Furthermore, the concept of nature is non-dualistic. He refuses to make a bifurcation or dichotomy between mind and matter, spirit and body, nature and culture and the metaphysical and the empirical. This means there is no reality, God or Truth beyond the nature that we are aware of in perception. This sentiment resonates with the philosopher Spinoza (1632–1677) for whom God is nature and nature is God. They merge – there is no distinction between them. Both Spinoza and Whitehead are inspirations for Næss and his Deep Ecology (Næss 1975; 1976).

Here follows a short clarification regarding difference between Whitehead’s concept of nature and Tim Ingold’s concept of environment. Putting humans at centre stage, as all social sciences do, are anthropocentric. Ingold is an anthropologist and studies the human life-world, experience and perception. The research theme in The Perception of the Environment (Ingold 2000) is how human beings perceive the world around them. Here, the environment is what surrounds someone, and therefore does not exist without a perceiver. "The environment is relative to those beings whose environment it is. […] Just as there can be no organism without an environment, there can be no environment without an organism." (Ingold 2000, 20).

This is very different from the idea that there is nature beyond culture. For me, the core of ecological awareness is the realisation that nature is more than an environment for humans.